Clients who dismiss their metaphors as fantasy

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I was asked:

How do you work with someone who can identify metaphors for their desired outcomes and develop them in rich detail but later dismisses them as only fantasy?

At one level, of course they are fantasies, but then so is everything we imagine, and that includes everything we think about the future. The question is not whether metaphors are fantasies or not, the question is: To what use can they be put? What would the client like to do with the metaphors they develop? Do they want to dismiss them? If not, what would they like to do with them?

Musing about their pattern, I wonder:

  • How do they imagine the future without fantasising?
  • How do they know the difference between fantasy and whatever-is-not fantasy?
  • How have they changed before, and did it involve dismissing?
  • How does dismissing the metaphors serve them?
  • If they maintain it doesn’t, what do they get from doing something that they know does not serve them?
  • And what would they like to have happen that takes account of the whatever dismissing does for them?
  • And what needs to happen for them to learn from and make use of their ‘natural’ tendency to dismiss?

Working with this kind of pattern will likely be an iterative process. Each time they find a way to not learn from and make use of what happens in the sessions, can itself become the focus of the next session. And if necessary, how they are not learning from their not learning can be a starting point at a new level.

One of your key roles is to ensure that any learnings from previous sessions are kept in awareness – otherwise metaphors like ‘going round in circles’ and ‘starting from scratch’, and ‘two steps forward, three steps back’ will become apt descriptions for the process.

And watch out for a switch to deciding there is a need to make a major change right now, since not succeeding at that will give them good reason to dismiss something that might succeed in the future. In such cases, small is beautiful since, at this stage, it is not about the scale of the change, it is about the client learning the process of how to improve their life. Once that happens the process by which they makes a small change can be used to make the next small change, and so on. This sets the iterative process going in a virtuous spiral.

[Last amended 28 Jan 2011]

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